“Every profession expects the serious practitioner of that profession to continually seek out the best practices of that profession, and then to roll them into his/her routine with discipline.”
That statement comes out of my mouth in almost every seminar or key-note that I present. Sometimes I follow it up with the ironic observation that there is, apparently, one exception to that rule – and that is the profession of sales, where we don’t expect anyone to improve.
That is, of course, nonsense. The truth is that better sales people produce better results. The best sales people produce the best results. And better sales people continually imbed best practices into their habits. That’s how they become better. They practice.
I just got off the phone with one of my clients. We were discussing the miserable state of the market in his industry – down about 35 percent from two years ago. Yet, he observed that four of his 12 sales people where having record years.
“It’s easy to do well when the market is growing,” he observed. “Most sales people don’t know what they did to gain business when the market was growing, and they don’t know what to do when the market is shrinking. The good sales people, though, know how to sell. And that brings them results.”
Good sales people sell more than mediocre sales people. That is such a blatantly obvious truth, that I’m embarrassed to even mention it. And the way that sales people get to be good is just like every other professional becomes good – they practice!
Good doctors practice their craft and continually improve. So do good social workers, teachers, accountants, and lawyers. Ditto for ministers, nurses, airline pilots, chefs and executives. The list goes on and on. No reasonably mature person thinks that after a year on the job they know it all. On the contrary, they expect to learn, grow and improve for the balance of their careers.
According to the Encarta Dictionary, the word practice means:
- repetition in order to improve.
- process of carrying out an idea.
- work of a professional person.
- usual pattern of action.
All of these accurately describe the behavior that separates the good sales person from the mediocre. Here’s how:
repetition in order to improve.
A good sales person studies the best practices of his profession, and repeats them in order to improve. This expresses itself in things like learning to ask a series of good questions. You work at it, repeat it and repeat it until it becomes a habit, and you have improved. Or, you create a memorized 30 second introduction to your company. You repeat it and repeat it until you have it down and it comes out of your mouth smoothly and persuasively. Or, you practice a presentation for a key product or service. You repeat it and repeat it until you are confident and competent in it. That’s practice.
It’s just like golf, tennis or any area of human endeavor. If you are going to become good at it, you must practice.
process of carrying out an idea.
The good sales person is continually on the lookout for good ideas. He collects them, sorts through them, prioritizes them and then implements them. For example, he may come across the idea of prioritizing his accounts based on the potential for business in those accounts. That’s a different idea than the typical sorting by the amount of business they did in the past. It is, for some, a new idea. The good sales person takes that idea, works it out, applies it to his territory, and then focuses on the high potential accounts. As a result, his production improves, and he becomes more effective. Then he looks for the next good idea. That’s practice.
work of a professional person.
The best sales people view their work as a profession. They understand that sales is a challenging, demanding job that is critical for the success of every business. They also understand that it typically takes years to become adept at it, and that it is so sophisticated and challenging that they must learn and improve forever. They also understand that their work is crucial for the success of their employer and that at least four or five families are employed as a result of every sales person’s efforts. That’s a profession. And those who are a part of a profession practice it.
usual pattern of action.
Sales is an action-based profession. In other words, it is our actions that cause reactions in the customer. They don’t send us a purchase order, and then we go see them. We see them first, and it is what we do that causes them to react. If we act effectively, we gain the business. If we don’t act effectively, we don’t gain the business.
Our success is less about the product and service and company that we represent and more about the actions that we take. And a pattern of action is a sequence of actions that are repeated. That’s it. Good sales people understand, over time, the most effective actions they can take, they put them together into patterns and repeat them until they cause more effective customer reactions.
Back to my example of asking a series of good questions. When a sales person has turned that action into a pattern, and by repetition, turned the pattern into a habit, and then by discipline and thoughtfulness continually exercises that habit, that sales person has become an excellent sales person. It’s what you do that counts. And, good sales people practice doing the right things until they get it right. It’s the practice that does it.
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